Commentary

Watching 'Queen America' While Keeping Watch On Facebook Watch

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, November 29, 2018

Lost among a bombardment of ongoing news about government investigations, alleged journalism, questionable ad targeting and backlash from users, Facebook quietly continues to roll out its free alternative to subscription streaming services: Facebook Watch.  

Its latest series, a beauty pageant dramedy starring Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones (“Chicago”), premiered a couple of weeks ago. Titled “Queen America,” its first episode garnered 1.3 million views. 

Sounds impressive until you check out the statistics for “Origin,” a sci-fi series with no Oscar winners, on another fledgling social media video service: Google’s YouTube Premium. (As of yesterday, however, YouTube Premium may have moved from fledgling to left-behind status, as YouTube professed a new preference for free, ad-supported content. )

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In any case, the first episode of “Origin,”which dropped free around the same time that “Queen America” did, has garnered over 10 times as many views: 11.1 million.

“Origin” is a more-than-competent, 10-part outer space thriller -- but for now, at least, you must pay to watch past the second episode.

“Queen America” is also a 10-part series, with four episodes currently available and new ones debuting free every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET. 

The series starts off slowly in Episode 1 as we first meet Zeta-Jones’ character Vicky: a bitchy, self-righteous, superficial coach of beauty pageant contestants. She seems more admirable in Episode 2, when her gay, black, male assistant/friend compares her to “an extremely loyal junkyard dog” with an anecdote about Vicky’s seeking extreme revenge on his bullies. By Episode 3, we’re warming up to her still more; by Episode 4, we actually like her -- and, lo and behold, we notice the show is actually funny.

“Queen America” also boasts the legendary Judith Light (“Transparent,” “Who’s the Boss?”) as the coach’s former coach, and a relative newcomer, perky 18-year-old Belle Shouse, as Zeta-Jones’ latest trainee. (Before she was even 16, Shouse co-wrote a short film, “One Smart Fellow,” with co-stars Timothy Busfield, Melissa Gilbert and Laura Inness, so you’re sure to be seeing more from her in the future.)

But why does “Queen America” -- and indeed, other shows on Facebook Watch -- have such low visibility? 

Could it be a marketing problem?

Shouldn’t be, since Facebook is known for its ability to gear ads to targeted audiences, which should should include TV viewing audiences.

After all, if the Russians could….

Ah! Perhaps Facebook is afraid that over-promoting its own TV shows could both alienate users and lead to yet another investigation.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Facebook Watch follows YouTube Premium down a stagnant stream.

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